A nucleic acid
testing program used by health agencies in North Carolina
is much more accurate in identifying HIV cases, particularly
those in the earliest stages of infection, than
standard antibody tests, The [Raleigh] News
& Observer reports. The tests can detect
tiny amounts of viral genetic material in blood samples
and are effective in screening both individual blood samples
and batches of pooled blood samples, such as with
units of donated blood.
showed that of 109,250 North Carolina residents
screened for HIV, standard HIV antibody tests identified 583
HIV-positive people but that nucleic acid testing
identified an additional 23 cases the antibody tests
missed. The additional cases were identified during
the first few days of HIV infection when particles of the
virus are in the body but the immune system
hasn't had enough time to produce detectable
levels of antibodies to the virus.
spends about $300,000 in state funds and tests about
120,000 people annually with the nucleic acid test, say
health officials. They say that although the nucleic
acid test is more expensive than HIV antibody tests,
it more than pays for itself in the long run by catching
the very earliest HIV cases and helping those newly infected
from unknowingly passing along the virus to others.
Carolina presented results of its nucleic acid testing
program at an AIDS conference in 2004, about a dozen
public-health centers around the country have launched
similar testing programs or are developing them.